As I read comments on my Facebook page, there is something about this winter that has everyone counting the days until spring. I know I have seen at least two countdown clocks, marking the hours and minutes. When I post a photo that shows any color of blue, particularly in combination with orange, you can feel the moaning stretching across cyberspace.
Blue is the color that drives us to the brink of hysteria. I showed one of my container photos earlier this month that had a couple of blue flowers with orange and its Facebook reach hit almost 1.3 million. Trust me when I say I am small potatoes in the Facebook world.
This got me thinking about a blue ageratum that no one thinks about, Artist Blue. There may be no more of a desired flower for the Southern garden than the Flossflower. I assure you, never once in my life has that "common name" escaped my lips; in fact spell check has it underlined as I type.
Most gardeners in the South will quickly tell you we can grow ageratums for only a while until the summer heat cooks them as if they were growing on some Martian desert. Sadly, they don't know that words like "flame proof" at the Dallas Arboretum are associated with Artist Blue.
You may be thinking they cook the books, so to speak, in Dallas, but I assure you this plant trial cooks the plants. It's not literally in the oven but in the hot Texas summer. What caught my eye in doing research for this article is that the trophy case now has 79 awards.
Texas isn't the only Southern state either. There are Top Performer Awards at Universities of Georgia, Florida and Mississippi State, Tennessee and North Carolina State. If there are this many in the South it only stands to reason that all of the Northern trial sites are seeing the same thing.
Artist Blue ageratum is a really special blue. Proven Winners calls it a blue purple and I would add touches of burgundy too. It reaches about 12 inches tall with a spread or 10 to 12 inches in the South. I know I shot photos of it taller too, so let that just be a voice of experience.
Artist Blue also does one thing that its wild roadside cousins do and that is feed the world, so to speak. The button-like flowers in the Aster family bring in bees, butterflies and hummingbirds to the delight of all who get to watch. It is a continuous bloomer needing no deadheading.
Now is a good time to source your Artist Blue ageratums. Despite over two pages of awards and representing most states that have trials, this is unfortunately not one of the flowers that you simply go to the garden center and pick up a flat or two. Some garden centers would simply say ageratums do not work in the South but now you know differently.
Before setting them out, prepare the soil so the roots can get established in the garden. That's what soil prep is all about. Select a site with plenty of sunlight. They need soil with good drainage as plants need oxygen, too. If we fail, it is often here.
Work in 3 to 4 inches of organic matter, and till to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. You can also use prepared landscape mixes and plant on raised beds. If you look at your favorite commercial landscapers, you'll notice they are pros at this. They also work great in containers, which makes the soil prep issue easy-peasy.
Artist ageratums are really easy to grow from the standpoint of maintenance. I already mentioned, no deadheading. Feed them with a light application of a slow release balanced fertilizer about every 4 to 6 weeks. Pay attention to this, particularly when growing in mixed containers that get watered frequently. With containers, you may want to use water soluble fertilizer that you apply every 2 to 3 weeks.
In the landscape these short mounding flowers offer exceptional opportunities for the front of the border. The cool blue colored blooms allow them to be partnered in dramatic complementary fashion with hot orange flowers like Goldilocks Rocks bidens or Luscious Tangelo Basket lantanas.
It is a new day in the world of ageratums. And thanks to the Artist Blue and Artist Pearl, also an award-winner, you can use them to create wonderful palettes of color in the long summer season of 2024.
Norman Winter is a horticulturist, garden speaker and author of "Tough-as-Nails Flowers for the South" and "Captivating Combinations: Color and Style in the Garden."